A country with rules, not whims

2014-07-13 15:00

Yet another crazy week has passed in this mad republic.

Between President Jacob Zuma’s recovery in time to attend glitzy sporting events and Thandi Modise’s delinquent farming methods to Mamphela Ramphele’s flip-flopping, those of us who have ringside seats to the great South African story were like kids in a candy store.

Let’s start with Ramphele. Just last week, she declared she would defend her party, Agang?SA, from “self-appointed leaders” and “usurpers” of power. She vowed to hold on to the leadership of the party because the reason the party “did well”, according to her, is because people voted for her “as a brand”.

A week later, she announced she had decided to “leave party politics” and return to working alongside her “fellow citizens in civil society”.

She said she had “accomplished” her aim of creating a political vehicle “to enable those who remain outside the political mainstream to have

a voice”. From defiance to submission in seven days.

I really hope?–?but seriously doubt?–?for her sake she will be able to rebuild her “brand” and restore the respect the nation had in her.

Anyway, far more important things happened this week that warranted our attention. And they had to do with South Africa’s status as a country of laws.

The first was the Great Modise Pig Scandal.

This was a sad story not only because of the gross neglect and abuse of animals. It was heartbreaking because these animals are one of the noblest creatures in the world. Pigs should never, ever, be treated in that way.

The real scandal was the ANC’s reaction.

While defending Modise, the governing party decided to have a go at the opposition parties for “politicising the situation”. In his over-the-top statements, ANC chief whip Stone Sizani accused the DA and other formations of using the incident “to discredit the land reform programme and to project black farming as inherently a failure”.

What is surprising about Sizani’s comments is his surprise that the opposition pounced on this matter for political capital.

Modise let the farm go to waste and allegedly broke the laws governing animal care and wasted precious Land Bank money.

She is now chairperson of the National Council of Provinces and her role involves making laws and exercising oversight over the executive. Her adherence to the laws and rules governing society is therefore paramount.

Sizani is chief whip of the party that has the most influence in making the laws and rules, and should be guided by this rather than comradeship.

We move to the other big story of the week: the confirmation of Hlaudi Motsoeneng as the chief operating officer of the SABC.

In February, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela made very clear findings on Motsoeneng. She nailed him for “improper conduct and maladministration”, and for being “dishonest”.

Among her recommendations was that Motsoeneng face disciplinary action, be removed and a new incumbent put in place within 90 days of the report’s release.

Former communications minister Yunus Carrim met the SABC board within 10 days of the Madonsela report going public and both parties agreed the recommendations would be acted upon.

This week, new Communications Minister Faith Muthambi sprung a surprise when she announced Motsoeneng’s appointment had been confirmed without even undergoing the process of advertising the job.

She justified ignoring the Public Protector by saying she and the SABC were satisfied that a report by a law firm had “cleared Mr Motsoeneng of any wrongdoing”.

“Therefore there was nothing before that suggested that I should not confirm the appointment,” she said.

Excuse me, Madam Minister! In front of you is a report by a chapter 9 institution that your predecessor and the board promised they would act on. Since when does an unseen report by an unnamed law firm, whose terms of reference are unknown, supersede a probe by a constitutional structure?

Motsoeneng might well be the right man, but he should get the job only after the proper procedure is followed. The actions of Muthambi and the board smack of contempt for the Public Protector and the Constitution.

The other area where our relationship with rules came into question was the treatment of apartheid killer Eugene de Kock.

De Kock was an evil man who deserved the severest punishment. But the decision to deny him parole on spurious grounds was a low point. It was a decision based on hatred and vengeance rather than rules.

The three examples quoted above are unrelated, but they speak of a country we should avoid becoming. We cannot be a society that chops and changes the rules willy-nilly.

We should strive to be a society that respects the laws we make and the institutions that make us a civilised people.

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